Saturday, February 28, 2009

Edwards on Preaching

Jonathan Edwards had this to say about his aim in preaching:

I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.

What a marvelous aim! Here is the convergence of head and heart in the preacher and in his goal in preaching. Several things stand out in this statement.

1. Preachers ought to seek to raise the spiritual affections of their hearers as high as possible.
2. Preachers ought to seek to raise the spiritual affections of their hearers with the truth.
3. Preachers ought to seek to raise the spiritual affections of their hearers by establishing the
proper connection between the affections and the objects which move those affections.

It is a powerful thing indeed when the truth of Scripture is preached in the power of the Spirit. Edwards was not content with a passing form of emotionalism. He wanted to raise the affections of his listeners but only in connection with the truth. Edwards understood that affections with no connection to the truth of Scripture would quickly fade and could be easily misguided. At the same time, to hear the truth and be unmoved by it is to show disregard for the truth and for God who revealed it. Truth should impact our spiritual desires and decisions.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Interesting Take on Consumerism in Christianity

In the January issue of Christianity Today, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson writes about the consumerism so common among evangelicals today. Here are some excerpts I found compelling.

The problem with implicitly salesy evangelism is bad theology, not bad technique, and it requires more than a simple change in method. If you feel like a used-car salesman talking about Jesus, the solution to the perceived lack of authenticity isn't a smoother pitch—it's a renewal of the church.

Wigg-Stevenson offers four key contrasts which demonstrate that true Christianity and market-driven consumerism are not compatible.

1. I am what I buy vs. the Lordship of Christ.

This attitude inhibits the disciple's growth into living a God-centered, neighbor-focused life. Yes, the Christian life brings fulfillment beyond imagination. But such fulfillment will be strangely elusive if it is your main priority as a Christian. Indeed, it comes only when we seek God instead of ourselves. Those who come to the church expecting brand satisfaction, seeking to save their lives, will find neither.

2. Discontent vs. the sufficiency of Christ.

Consumerist habits drive us in an endless and endlessly dissatisfying quest for new and different things. But discipleship, pursued in Christian community, is about becoming satisfied with just one thing: the Lord who gives us strength.

3. Brand relativism vs. the supremacy of Christ.

Spiritual shoppers have no reason to think that Christianity is anything but one option among many. But the life of a holy church is a powerful witness to the contrary—perhaps most evidently in our celebration of the Lord's Supper, when we remember that the one we consume has already consumed us. The church reveals the supremacy of Christ in a world that denies his power when—crediting it all to God—we love the unlovable and forgive the unforgivable, reconcile seemingly intractable hatreds and rejoice even in sorrow, persevere in hardship and serve to the point of sacrifice, and baptize and teach instead of consume and discard.

4. Fragmentation vs. unity in Christ.

We must therefore be concerned about market segmentation infiltrating the church. It has resulted in two unacceptable outcomes: utterly homogenous churches representing consumer-based "clusters," and homogenous groupings within larger churches.
Both divide us along racial, socioeconomic, and age- and gender-based lines, each of which predicts consumer behavior. This is certainly a "pattern of this world" (
Rom. 12:2).

One final quote that asks a really good question for the church infatuated with marketing the gospel:

If we treat the gospel like a commodity, can we fault nonbelievers for thinking that the cross is just another logo?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Briefing

A friend recently purchased for me a subscription to a magazine called The Briefing. It is produced by Matthias Media, a reform-minded, evangelical group out of Australia. I have greatly enjoyed reading this magazine. The articles are substantive, informative, and challenging. I recommend you give it a try.

In the latest edition, Nicole Starling writes an editorial about the danger of abandoning the Bible for some inward voice in our search for the voice of God. She cites the popular book, The Shack as one example of this type of spirituality which disparages the idea of God being tied to a book. Instead, the character who represents the Holy Spirit in the book says that "you will learn to hear my thoughts in yours." She also cites John Eldridge's idea that a person should listen to a song on the headphones and then "write down what you hear God say in the depths of your heart."

She concludes her editorial with these penetrating words:

When we decide that we are going to go looking for God inside the self, we should not be surprised if we end up finding a reassuringly self-shaped god. But when we go searching in Scripture for the true God, the God we find (or rather, the God we are found by) come to us in a revelation infinitely more gracious and glorious.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bunyan on Conversion

In his book The Excellency of a Wounded Heart, John Bunyan gives this insight on the issue of conversion:

Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some men seem to think . . . . It is wounding work, of course, this breaking of the hearts, but without wounding there is no saving. . . . Where there is grafting there is a cutting, the scion {detached portion of the plant to be grafted in} must be let in with a wound; to stick it on to the outside or to tie it on with a string would be of no use. Heart must be set to heart and back to back, or there will be no sap from root to branch, and this I say, must be done by a wound.

This was certainly Bunyan's own experience. He wrestled and agonized over his own sin. No wonder the main character in Pilgrim's Progress is introduced to us carrying a heaven burden on his back as he flees the City of Destruction. How many there seem to be in our day who seek to "tie on" or "stick on the outside" of their lives a form of Christianity. Bunyan saw clearly that the Spirit must first bring the wound of conviction before the new life of Christ can be grafted in.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sola Scriptura versus Sola Experientia

I've been reading about Luther lately in preparation for some biographical sketches I'm presenting on Sunday evenings. One of the things that highlights Luther's deep commitment to Scripture was his disagreement with Thomas Muntzer. Muntzer believed in a direct experience of revelation from the Spirit apart from the written Word. Muntzer commented, “The man who has not received the living witness of God really knows nothing about God though he may have swallowed 100,000 Bibles.” He also said in a letter to Phillip Melancthon, "Man does not live by bread alone but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God; note that it proceeds from the mouth of God and not from books"

In response to this kind of thinking, Luther stated that he wouldn't believe Muntzer “if he swallowed the Holy Ghost feathers and all.” Luther had no tolerance for a theology of revelation that minimized Scripture. In 1545 Luther said, "Let the man who would hear God speak read Holy Scripture." Roland Bainton writes in Here I Stand,

The Scriptures assumed for Luther an overwhelming importance, not primarily as a source book for antipapal polemic, but as the one ground of certainty. He had rejected the authority of popes and councils and could not make a beginning from within as did the prophets of the inward word. The core of his quarrel with them was that in moments of despondency he could find nothing within but utter blackness. He was completely lost unless he could find something without on which to lay hold. And this he found in the Scriptures.

The formal principle of the Reformation was sola scriptura. Contemporary evangelicals would do well to remember this heritage. It is the objective word of Scripture which defines doctrine and guides behavior. It is the objective word of Scripture which protects the body of Christ from drifting into error. Examples abound in recent history of the doctrinal deviance and moral scandals of groups which have replaced the sure word of Scripture with experience. Can anyone forget the Todd Bentley episode in Florida?

It is also the Word of God which equips the church for every good work (2 Timothy 3:15-17). It is the instrument, by the power of the Spirit, which both saves and sanctifies the people of God. Without the Word, the life of the church becomes a free-for-all. The church becomes vulnerable to the latest fads or the next person who "has a word from the Lord." Scripture nourishes, guides, reproves, inspires, and instructs the people of God. From Luther's perspective, "The Word of God is the greatest, most necessary, and most important thing in Christendom."

Amen, Brother Martin, Amen.